This essential movement continues to be a staple in the exercise routines of athletes, recreational gym goers, bodybuilders, and even those recovering from certain injuries. While most people are familiar with push-ups, some aren’t sure which muscles they work. This article details the muscles that push-ups work, how to achieve them, and their benefits.

What muscles do push-ups work?

Although push-ups are often thought of as a chest exercise, the other muscles they work should not be overlooked. In fact, push-ups are considered a bodyweight exercise, which means they work multiple upper body muscles.

Here are the muscles you target when performing a standard push-up.

pectoralis major

The pectoralis major is the largest of the chest muscles. It is thick, fan-shaped, and sits just below the breast tissue. It serves as the main mover during a push-up. The muscle is made up of two heads. One is the clavicular head, which originates in the medial part of the collarbone. The other is the sternocostal head, which originates in the sternum and upper ribs. Although these heads come from different places, they both fit on the upper part of the humerus, or upper arm bone. During the push-up, this muscle controls the descent of the torso towards the floor and pushes the body back to the starting position.

Small pectoral

The pectoral minor is a lesser known muscle in the chest. It is significantly smaller in size and sits below the pectoralis major. This small triangle-shaped muscle arises from the third to the fifth front ribs. It inserts into the coracoid process, a small hook-like structure located on the front part of the scapula. During a push-up, the pectoralis minor holds the shoulder blades in position. This allows for correct shoulder and upper back posture.


The triceps, officially known as the triceps brachii, is a large, thick muscle located at the back of your arm. The prefix “tri” refers to the three heads that form this important pushing muscle. These are the middle, lateral and long heads. Each head has a unique point of origin. The three heads fit onto the olecranon process, which is the pointed bone at the back of the elbow joint. During the first half of the push-up, when your chest is almost touching the ground, the triceps help stabilize the torso. During the second half, the triceps is the primary driver of arm extension.

Anterior deltoids

The deltoids are the large, triangular-shaped muscles located above the shoulder joints. Like the triceps, these powerful muscles are made up of three distinct heads: the anterior, lateral and posterior heads. Although all heads are active during the thrust, the anterior head is stressed the most due to its location in front of the shoulder joint. This head originates from the front part of the collarbone bone and fits over the outer part of the humerus of your upper arm. During the upward phase of the push-up, the anterior deltoids help adduct the shoulder joint, that is, they help bring the arms back towards the chest. They also help stabilize the shoulders during the downswing.

trunk muscles

While push-ups primarily stimulate the chest muscles, other muscle groups support the movement. One of these groups is the core muscles, specifically the abdominals. The abdominals are made up of five major muscles: the rectus abdominis muscle, the transverse abdominis muscle, the internal and external obliques, and the piriformis muscle. Also, the deep back muscles help keep the torso upright. In particular, the erector spinae and the multifidus contribute to this.
Working in unison, these core muscles help keep the spine straight and achieve good form during push-ups.

What are the advantages of pumps?

Push-ups are a tried-and-true strength training exercise known for its many potential benefits. Here are the main benefits of doing push-ups regularly.

Upper body strengthening

Since push-ups are a compound exercise that targets multiple muscle groups simultaneously, they have great potential for building upper body strength.
When push-ups are part of a balanced training program, they can significantly strengthen the pectoral muscles, triceps and anterior deltoids.
Additionally, research suggests that weighted push-ups provide muscle activation similar to the bench press, another well-known upper body exercise.
Although push-ups primarily target upper body muscles, performing them properly can also strengthen core muscles, including abdominal muscles and lower back.

May improve body composition

Anyone who’s done more than a few push-ups knows they can get your heart pumping. Adding strength exercises like push-ups to an aerobic exercise program can increase energy metabolism, which helps burn more calories. This can lead to benefits such as increased fat loss. Thus, adding push-ups to a balanced training program, along with the right diet, can lead to long-term improvements in body composition.

In summary

Regular practice of push-ups has several potential benefits, including strengthening the upper body, reducing the risk of heart attacks, and improving body composition.

How to do push-ups with correct form

Although push-ups require no equipment and are fairly easy to perform, there are some subtle cues to keep in mind when performing them.
By following the steps below, you’ll be well on your way to performing the perfect push-up.

1 Begin by getting into a high plank position with your arms straight and your palms resting on the floor shoulder-width apart. Place your toes on the ground in line with your legs.

2 Engage your core muscles, glutes and legs to align your spine.

3 Keeping your back straight and looking a few feet ahead of you, bend your elbows to descend in a gradual, controlled motion until your chest grazes the floor. Keep your elbows close to your sides throughout the movement.

4 As you exhale, push your palms down to return to the starting position. Focus on contracting your chest and triceps muscles while keeping your core tight.

5 Repeat the exercise for the desired number of repetitions and sets.

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